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Why Is Everyone Talking About Sustainability?

Why is everyone suddenly talking about sustainability? It is the same as discussing climate change and the environment? What does it mean for our food, travel or energy to be sustainable? Here is what you need to know about sustaining our planet and what our future could look like.

Considering humans have been on earth for millions of years, it seems we know a thing or two about sustainable development. The truth however is that our behaviour so far has caused a decline in biodiversity and our natural resources to drop rapidly.
The meaning of sustainability is very simple: When we say we need enough to sustain ourselves, we mean we need to support ourselves and not run out. In essence, this is it; being sustainable means being able to keep going indefinitely, not using anything up which can’t be regenerated.

In society, we look at environmental, economic and social sustainability. Environmental sustainability is at the heart of discussions, because it is a so-called limiting factor. We need to learn to live within our environmental limits, meaning finding a way to sustain ourselves and care for our planet – plants, resources and animals – in a way which won’t compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
flickr | Don GrahamEvery year on Overshoot Day we commemorate the day we have used up our ecological budget for the year. Past this date, we are in global overshoot, using more goods than nature can provide us with. Sadly, every year this day falls a little earlier. While just fifteen years ago it was in October, this year it fell on the 13 August. For years, human kind has made use of natural resources without thinking of the consequences, now the ramifications are obvious: many species are extinct or threatened due to loss of habitat and we see the fight for sustainability every day. One of the most prominent ones is the fight against the use of palm oil; only 20 per cent of palm oil comes from certified sustainable palm oil plantations. Sustainable seafood, especially tuna, is another battle which makes daily headlines.

Reasons for our growing sustainability issues are the rapid population increase - 95 per cent in the past 45 years - as well as our ever-growing carbon footprint.  Currently, we would need 1.6 earths to sustain ourselves and our living standard. A lot of factors play into our carbon footprint: The houses we live in, the amount of travel we do by car, public transport or air travel, how we eat, how we heat our homes, the paper we use, our waste and our recycling habits. Carbon footprint calculators show you just how much all the little things in our day to day life affect our earth.

Ideas for sustainability
Sustainability was a core focus at this year’s World Expo in Milan. While the name of the exposition was Feeding The Planet, Energy For Life, most countries focused on sustainable food production. The possibilities are endless; it is just a question of making it a priority and sometimes remembering what our ancestors used to do: Canadian First Nations for example only ever take a small amount of cedar bark – enough to sustain them but not so much it will harm the tree.
flickr | Jean-Pierre DalbéraIn Milan, every country presented their best technologies. The Rice Research Institute in Bangladesh developed a variety of rice which adapts to climate change, Israel one of the driest countries in the world, uses drip irrigation systems to water their crops. Bolivia focused on showing off the benefits of quinoa, which is easier to cultivate and could go a long way to overcoming hunger. Growing moringa plants in Africa could help malnourished communites. The Dominican Republic, a key export country of coffee beans, explained the introduction of new cultivation methods for organic beans and lets not forget about all of the insects we could be getting our teeth into.

Overall, most pavilions focused on innovative agricultural and culinary sustainability. The Swiss pavilion came with a strong but powerful message: Four floors are filled with free food and visitors can help themselves to as much as they like. The problem: The four floors of food should last for the duration of the expo; once it is empty, there is no more. So rather than taking as much as possible it is about taking just what is necessary, and remember the Expo lasts for six months.

From low-carbon buildings to vertical fields, the hope is that the ideas and displays in Milan will be a catalyst to make sustainability a priority.

By Claire Herbaux -Online Journalism Intern

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